Paying for College / Debt Relief, Life & Career

College Student Expenses: Living Away from Home

So, you’re heading to campus. (Or maybe back to campus.)

Whether you’re a freshman or you’re getting a fresh start in a new year, college transitions come with a load of budget considerations:

  • Where am I going to live?
  • How will I get around?
  • What will I eat?
  • Where do I go if I get sick or hurt?
  • What about all the other stuff I’ll need to pay for?

No matter your situation, let’s explore the money considerations college students face every year.

Housing Costs

Nothing impacts your bottom line like housing costs, which are usually your biggest expense throughout life – from college through retirement. Housing in college usually involves a long-term commitment with a lease or dorm, so think long term before you splurge on something you’ll regret a few months down the road. You also need to factor in utility bills and the cost of furniture and other necessities if you’re looking to go premium on your living arrangement. In other words, don’t make yourself “house poor” before the semester even starts.


The SUVs and trucks on college campuses keep getting bigger – and so do the price tags, fuel costs, and insurance premiums. The best way to limit your transportation spending in college is choosing a cheaper mode of commute (bike/bus/compact car) over a big luxury ride. Also, the closer you live to campus, the lower your transportation costs will be, so consider transportation costs as you figure out housing.


For college students, a habit of eating takeout can eat into your budget in a major way. Even worse, having food delivered can be uber expensive. If you’re on a college meal plan, make the most of it and eat at campus cafeterias whenever possible. If you’re not on a college meal plan, taking a few hours to research affordable, healthy foods that you can easily prepare at home could be the most valuable homework you do all year.

Health Care

Many college students are fortunate to avoid health care worries – but it’s good to have your bases covered just in case an unexpected illness or injury strikes. Many colleges offer health insurance plans, or you can remain on your parents’ plan if that’s a better option. But your first step should always be checking if your college has a clinic, and if they provide the care you need for free.

Personal Expenses

Personal expenses are a wild card for college students. You can go big or go practical on everything from everyday needs (like shampoos and clothes), to electronic wants (like that new phone or streaming service), to super “extra” things (like that tattoo you’ve been thinking about or that Spring Break vacation). Personal expenses are where many college students fall into the credit card trap. (Here’s how to avoid the credit card trap).

If scholarships, federal student loans, and savings or income don’t cover these expenses, private student loans can be used to cover more than tuition – including fees, living expenses, books, supplies, transportation, and more.

As a student, your early years of college are priceless because of all the valuable lessons you learn on campus. Few things can make as much of a lifelong impact as the personal finance habits you create. These tips were built to help you establish habits that will pay off for generations to come.

Nelnet Bank does not provide legal, investment, tax, or financial advice. This page and the information contained herein is for informational purposes only. This content is not meant to address the circumstances of any particular individual. Nothing contained in this article constitutes a recommendation or endorsement by Nelnet Bank. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consult with a qualified professional.

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